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HUW MERRIMAN MP NEWSLETTER

Dear Resident, 

I hope this bulletin finds you well. 

As we continue to recover from the pandemic, it is clear that some of our essential supply chains are experiencing difficulties. Some of this is down to parts of the global economy waking up at differing times. Some is down to more deep-rooted issues in the UK which need reform. I am sorry for the impact this may be having on you. You are not alone; I’ve used my bike and train a lot more across the constituency these past few weeks. 

This newsletter is a mix of work in Parliament and the constituency. My local visits can be found below in blue. 

It's been good to speak in the chamber in support of our local authorities for their hard work in resettling Afghan refugees and addressing the HGV driver shortage and those who have been blockading our motorways. 

In the constituency, I’ve continued my meetings with our Parish Councils and visited some amazing community projects. 

Thank you for taking the time to read this newsletter. 

Yours sincerely,

Huw

Local  Vaccine Update

Invites have started to go out to people for their COVID booster vaccine.  Initially people aged 80 and over will be invited, but over the coming weeks people in all the eligible groups will be offered the autumn booster.

This includes people aged over 50, those aged 16 to 49 years with underlying health conditions that put them at higher risk of severe COVID-19, adult carers, and adult household contacts of immunosuppressed individuals.

Care home visits also started last week to provide residents and staff with a booster vaccine.

It is important to note that people can only receive the booster vaccine six months after their second dose.
People will get a call or text from their local GP led site to get the jab, or will be invited to use the National Booking Service website or call 119 and vaccines will be offered at existing vaccination sites including pharmacies, hospital hubs, GP practices and vaccine centres.

For those who have yet to have their first or second vaccine, including 16-17 year olds, there is plenty of capacity in the local walk-in vaccination centres. 

Read more about Sussex’s vaccination programme plans and how to book a vaccine appointment here.

Visits to schools to offer children aged 12 to 15 a COVID vaccine have also begun.  Every parent, carer or guardian is being written to with the arrangements for their child's school and a link to the consent system.  Children with parental consent in place will then be offered a vaccine on the day of visit to the school.

Read more about these vaccinations, and FAQs for 12 to 15 year olds  
here.

Addressing the HGV Driver Shortage 

I am sorry about the recent lack of available fuel at petrol at stations and share the frustration and the impact. It is important to stress that there is plenty of fuel in the refineries and in storage across the country. Over recent weeks, a significant spike in demand caused temporary shortages at some petrol stations. 

The increased demand was largely as a result of selective briefing of the media, which caused unnecessary panic buying. Ministers are working closely with the industry to manage  short-term demand, including relaxing competition laws on a temporary basis to allow industry to prioritise the delivery of fuel to parts of the country most in need, and providing up to 150 military tanker drivers to deliver to forecourts which ran dry because of panic buying.

I am aware of the longer-term challenges of recruitment and retention of drivers within the wider HGV sector. Driver shortages are being felt right across Europe, with Germany, for example, estimated to be short of between 45,000 and 60,000 drivers. The Government has announced a package of measures to tackle the shortage and ease pressure on industry through boosting skills, increasing testing availability and easing competition law. £10 million will be invested to create new skills bootcamps and train up to 3,000 HGV drivers – with an additional 1,000 to be trained through local courses, and 5,000 visas will be made available for HGV drivers for a three-month period, to provide short-term relief for the haulage industry in the build up to Christmas.

These short-term visas reflect the extraordinary circumstances in which we find ourselves this year. The pandemic meant that all HGV driver testing had to be shut down for months on end, which has created a bottleneck in the system. This temporary visa measure will give the industry time to get back on its feet, but it is imperative that haulage companies now invest in the British workforce to tackle this long-term challenge.

The Transport Select Committee, which I Chair, published a report on the road haulage sector in 2016, which found that the industry has been short of skilled drivers since the mid-2000s. To develop a resilient, domestic labour market that is not reliant on overseas workers in the long-term, our report highlighted the importance of the sector broadening and diversifying its workforce, and increasing pay and improving conditions; something that I reiterated to the Transport Secretary during a recent Urgent Question earlier this month.

Watch here.

Transport Committee Session with the Transport Secretary 

We were joined by the Secretary of State for Transport, Grant Shapps, at a recent Select Committee Meeting. 

It was a good opportunity to discuss all relevant transport issues from the restart of international travel to rail and road investments. 

I also raised constituency issues with Grant, including the Active Travel fund in Sidley. 
Watch here.

Visit to Running Space

Last month, I visited Running Space, a charity based at The Pelham in Sidley which promotes mental health wellbeing through physical activity and supportive friendships.  The charity is run by inspiring Bexhill resident, Jacky Youldon, who explained to me how she set up Running Space to help prevent suicide. Jacky was named BBC Sports Unsung Hero of the Year for the South East in 2019 for her incredible work. During my visit, I had the pleasure of meeting her Friday morning running group, some of whom have faced their own health challenges both physical or mental, they have found strength, happiness and friendship from being part of this group. There certainly was a lot of laughter going on that morning!
Find out more about Running Space here.

I also met Ollie Jeffs, CEO of the Pelham Trust, to find out more about the great projects they are working on to support the local community which include plans for on-site construction training, a dedicated space for young people -The Basement, plus facilities and space for community groups and organisations like Running Space. It also has a great café for people to meet and make new friends in a welcoming and safe setting. 

Find out more about The Basement Project for young people here
 

Ticehurst Parish Council Meeting

As part of my parish council visits, I had a meeting with Ticehurst Parish Council to discuss the Ticehurst Village Centre Plans, informal crossing points and housing development.

I have previously spoken to Department for Transport officials regarding best practices for pedestrian crossings and have been working with the Parish Council to ensure any new crossings deliver the village centre improvements which the community has been working towards.

Burwash Common and Weald Residents Meeting 

I joined a Burwash Common and Weald Residents' Association meeting to discuss the condition of local rural road and drainage infrastructure and the quality of repair work being undertaken to repair them. 

The residents' association had some excellent suggestions on the County's highways contract negotiations, along with some questions which I have put forward to the Lead County Councillor. I will keep residents updated on the progress.  

Stagecoach Lunch 

I attended a lunch hosted by Stagecoach at the Cooden Beach Hotel. 

As the biggest mode of passenger transport within East Sussex, buses are playing a critical role in helping to re-build our communities and local economy as we emerge from the pandemic.

Senior representatives from Stagecoach South East attended and we discussed the future of services as we emerge from the pandemic and other improvements to bus services locally. 

Great Big Green Week

To mark Great Big Green Week, I was pleased to cycle to Ticehurst Village Hall  to join discussions about Climate Change.

Great Big Green Week celebrates how communities are taking action to tackle climate change and protect green spaces and it was great to see so many residents at the event.

I kickstarted the discussion by speaking about the work of the Transport Select Committee in decarbonising transport to meet our net-zero by 2050 target. We went on to cover a wide range of subjects including solar panels on new developments, car share, use of Lithium batteries,  HS2, climate change education, wind power, cycle paths, new developments and environment concerns. 

Knepp Rewilding Project

I visited the Knepp Rewilding Project in West Sussex with the Conservative Environment Network to learn more about the potential contribution of rewilding to nature recovery in England and the opportunities for farmers and landowners from the new Environmental Land Management scheme and emerging markets for ecosystem services such as carbon sequestration.

A big thank you to Isabella Tree and Charlie Burrell who own the site and gave us a fantastic tour! 

Marking World Alzheimer’s Month

I attended an event in Parliament with neighbouring MP Sally-Ann Hart to mark World Alzheimer’s month. 

In our constituency 1.5% of residents are living with dementia, and in 205 we had the second highest number of residents with Alzheimer’s of any Parliamentary constituency in the UK. 

At the drop-in, it was a pleasure to meet volunteers who had previously cared for people with dementia and I am grateful for their efforts to ensure Parliamentarians are engaged in supporting those with the condition. 

With the prevalence of Alzheimer’s increasing and no treatments available in the UK to delay the onset, slow progression, or cure the diseases that cause the condition, it is ever more important that dementia research remains on the agenda. 

Local Authorities and Afghan Resettlement

I praised Wealden and Rother District Council’s work in welcoming our Afghan friends in the House of Commons. 

I asked the Minister for Afghan Resettlement whether the funding package for Local Authorities supporting Afghan families as fully costed and urged other Local Authorities across the country to play their part in welcoming those in need. 

The Minister also thanked our District Councils for their hard work in coordination with her Department and confirmed that an additional £20 million of flexible funding to support Local Authorities with higher cost bases with any additional costs in the provision of services would be provided on top of the standard three-year funding package. Watch here.

Support your GP Surgery

I know from my regular contact with local GPs and NHS leads that the demands on our local GP surgeries are much higher than normal. However, they are still required to work under Covid-safe procedures to protect them and patients from infection which means surgeries cannot open as normal.

I am aware that some patients have struggled to get hold of their surgeries due to this increased demand and this can be frustrating. However, despite some media reports about GPs not seeing patients face to face, nearly 60% of all appointments in Sussex are now in person and the options of telephone and video appointments are offered for those who do not need to attend the surgery. Whilst the vast majority of patients are kind and courteous, I'm afraid our GP surgeries are seeing a big increase in abusive and threatening behaviour towards their staff. I'm sure you would agree that this is never acceptable. So, please offer your GP surgery your support when you need to contact them, a few kind words go a long way. 

More information on this issue can be found  here.

Back British Farming

On Back British Farming Day, I attended an event hosted by the NFU with special guest Jeremy Clarkson. 

It was fascinating to hear how Jeremy had become involved in farming and is now an advocate for farmers across the country. 

I was delighted to show my support for Back British Farming Day because farming plays an incredibly important role in our way of life both locally and across the country. 

International Travel Take-Off

Since my last newsletter, I’m pleased to report a number of substantial relaxations of our international travel rules.

From Monday 4 October, the traffic light system was replaced by a single red list of countries and territories and simplified travel measures for arrivals from the rest of the world. The rules for travel from countries and territories not on the red list will depend on your vaccination status.

Fully vaccinated passengers arriving from certain non-red list countries will no longer be required to take a pre-departure test before their arrival into England. 

Later in October, we will move away from day 2 PCR testing to a new system of cheaper lateral flow device tests for fully vaccinated passengers arriving from non-red countries. If passengers test positive, they will then be required to take a confirmatory PCR test, at no additional cost to the traveller. This will allow the Government to continue to genome sequence results in order to detect Variants of Concern.

I have been calling for PCR tests to be ditched in favour of cheaper lateral flow tests consistently over the last few months, most recently in the days before these changes were announced as you will see here and here.

I welcomed the relaxation of travel restrictions and the restart of UK-US travel in the House of Commons and called on the Government to ensure we have the capacity at our borders to process the increased number of travellers. Watch here.

These changes will provide a much-needed boost to our aviation and tourism industry, and will finally allow residents to have the hassle-free holidays they deserve. 

M25 Protesters

The Transport Select Committee held a session with the Transport Secretary and I raised residents' concerns that the Police have, at times, appeared to not have sufficient powers to deal with the M25 protesters. 

The Transport Secretary confirmed that he had secured a High Court injunction in an effort to stop the protests that have caused misery to thousands of people trying to go about their daily lives.
The Police must now enforce that injunction to prevent further disruption and chaos. 

On the same day, I raised the same issue with the Policing Minister. As I said, we must now enforce that injunction to prevent further disruption and chaos or, as seems likely, Parliament needs to bring in new laws, with prison sentences, to bring this madness to a close.

Watch 
here.

Transport Decarbonisation

A few weeks ago, the Transport Committee held an evidence session on the Government’s Transport Decarbonisation Plan. Decarbonising transport is crucial if we are to meet our net-zero by 2050 target, but is incredibly challenging. The session was a good opportunity to hear from the Minister about what plans the Government has to deliver net-zero transport. Watch here.

Rural roads and road safety

Residents turned out in force for a meeting on rural roads and speeding which I organised with Wealden District Cllr Pam Doodes.

The meeting was for parish councillors and residents of Wealden parishes - Pevensey, Westham, Wartling, Hooe, Herstmonceux and Ninfield. We were pleased to welcome lead officers from the County Council, Sussex Safer Roads Partnership, Wealden District Council and National Highways to present information and answer questions on speeding, road safety, road maintenance, verges and littering with plenty of opportunity for residents to raise local issues and ask questions.   We also had a presentation from the Chair of Catsfield Parish Council about effective ways of targetting speeding problems in rural areas and Community Speedwatch.

Residents are, rightly, frustrated with the speeding on, and state of, their local roads.  They want us to understand and try to deliver solutions.


Read more here.

Meeting with Sidley Councillors, Schools and Organisations

I organised and chaired a meeting of councillors and local organisations in Sidley following a meeting with Cllr Tony Carroll, one of the newly elected Bexhill town councillors for the village.  

The meeting which was kindly hosted by Mr Taylor, the Headteacher of All Saints School, involved a number of community and sports clubs, including Heart of Sidley, local churches, The Pelham Trust and nursery schools as well as Sidley's councillors from town, district and county.

We are all keen to ensure that we all work hard to achieve real improvements for Sidley residents of all generations. This two hour meeting identified the challenges and strengths of this great community and we will now be working collectively on projects to deliver real change.

Heathfield's Men's Shed

I had the pleasure of attending the official opening of the Heathfield and District Men’s Shed on 18 September.  The site was officially opened by The Who’s Roger Daltrey.

This initiative provides a place for men to pursue practical interests at leisure and build local connections and friendships. It's a great space and I look forward to visiting again soon to hear more about how this project enriches Heathfield’s community. 

Find out more about Heathfield's Men’s Sheds 
here

If you are interested in setting up a similar project in your community, more information can be found here

Visit to Batemans

I visited Bateman’s National Trust with Ben Weisz of BBC Sussex to meet staff and volunteers and see the beautiful house and gardens. 

Bateman’s care for a treasure trove of extraordinary works of art, objects and artefacts that help tell the incredible story of Rudyard Kipling. Their dedicated team, made up in large part by volunteers are working to conserve our heritage and tell the story of Kipling. 
 
Ben Weisz is currently creating a series of podcast called Political Landscapes – each week, he takes an hour-long walk with an MP somewhere they’ve chosen in their constituency. We took in Bateman's as part of our ramble in Burwash and you can listen to his podcast  here

It is fantastic that their volunteer millers have returned following the pandemic to operate their wonderful water mill which was only just up and running in March 2020.

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